For decades the standard question at U.S. grocery store check-out counters has been "Paper or Plastic?" But since January, consumers in the U.S. capital have faced a different question: "Will you pay 5 cents for a bag?"
Europeans have long accepted the idea of providing their own baskets, bags or nets to carry their purchases, or paying for bags. But in the United States, where retailers go out of their way to cater to customers' needs, being given a free paper or plastic bag to carry purchases is largely taken for granted.
While one major city, San Francisco, has banned plastic bags, Washington's law is the first of its kind in the United States. It is being carefully watched by activists who hope that one strong success will prove the tipping point for a program aimed at reducing litter, pollution and waste.
Whether Washington's law will prove to be a trendsetter remains to be seen. The issue has sparked debate and many shoppers would rather juggle items in their arms or drive to stores in neighboring states where bags are still free.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 3,960 thousand tons of plastics waste, including bags, sacks, and wraps was generated in 2008. Of those, barely 1 percent were recycled. The agency does not keep statistics on the effectiveness of fees or bans on bags.
In 2002, Ireland enacted a nationwide mandate to charge a fee of 15 cents per bag on all plastic bags. According to the Irish government agency that monitors the program, it has reduced annual plastic bag use from an estimated 328 to 21 per person.
San Francisco enacted its ban in 2007 and similar legislation is to take effect in July in Los Angeles, where shoppers will be charged 25 cents for a paper or biodegradable one. But attempts by other U.S. cities and states to curb the predominance of plastic shopping bags have been rejected, most notably in eco-friendly West Coast city of Seattle, where voters last August overturned legislation to charge 20 cents per bag.
So Here is the question! Would you be willing to pay for the plastic bags?